Orthetrum cancellatum

Common Name:
Black-tailed Skimmer
O. cancellatum
The Name
Orthetrum cancellatum (Linnaeus, 1758), the Black-tailed Skimmer, is a European large skimmer dragonfly from the Family Libellulidae.

The male has a blue abdomen with a black tip and transparent wings, thorax and eyes are dark brown or green. The female and Immature males have a yellowish brown body with black zigzag marks along the abdomen and transparent wings. This species has expanded its range, assisted by the creation of gravel pits which give it the extensive open unvegetated areas it prefers. It was first recorded in Great Britain in Essex in 1934. It is decreasing rapidly in the Maltese islands.

Males may be confused with the Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) however the latter has a dark patch at the base of the wings 


The Characteristics
The Black-tailed Skimmer has a total length between 44 and 50 mm, a similar species is Orthetrum albistylum. The wings are clear and the pterostigma (cell in the outer wing) is black and the abdomen is broad and flattened in both sexes. Males have a bluish abdomen with yellow sides. Young males look similar to females but they change colour during maturation. Females have a bright yellow abdomen with longitudinal black bands. Young males and females can be told apart from their eyes, femalesĺ eyes are darker. The abdomen turns darker during growth. The nymphs are aquatic, short, stocky and slightly flattened.

Prefers larger ponds and lakes, especially gravel pits, with bare sandy areas on the banks where the males 'skim' over the water surface flying low and very fast returning repeatedly to settle on the same bare area of bank. Females are less in evidence and spend much of their time in nearby vegetation.


The Reproduction and Development
At breeding sites males hold territory around perch on ground or low vegetation near on water's edge, aggressively attacking other males. Also patrol over open water. Approaching females are seized and brief copulation ensues. Feed from perches taking large prey items including grasshoppers (Orthoptera), damselflies (Zygoptera) and butterflies (Lepidoptera).

Females oviposits alone but with male in attendance. Eggs are laid in flight by dipping abdomen onto water surface. Larvaes live in bottom of pond partly buried in silt. Development takes 2-3 years.  Emergence happens in early morning up to 10m away from habitat.

Flight period from end of April to the end of August. 

Preferred environment are lowland pools and lakes with shallow margins and areas of bare shore. Often in artificial sites including gravel pits. Most common in early successional stage, decreasing as plant cover increases.


The Distribution
Southern and central Europe to southern Scandinavia; absent from most of extreme western Europe and most of Scandinavia; north Africa, Middle East and Asia east to Kashmir and Mongolia. The Black-tailed Skimmer is one of the most common dragonfly species around Europe.


The Protection Status
Common and abundant throughout its range.

The Species on Stamps



With courteous to Mr. Richard Lewington for the Dragonfly Illustration
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